For years I have been encouraged and inspired by the monthly emails sent to my church by Finnish-born Anna Deikun thanking us for supporting her missionary work. Anna has worked for the Patmos Foundation for World Missions in Finland for the past forty years and the Slavic Missionary Service for the past thirty.
I have personally had the blessing of hearing Anna Deikun and her late husband, Alex, speak at First Baptist Church in Little Falls, NY, about their ministry with Russian Jews in New York City. Through the years I have gotten enough of a glimpse of this gracious and Godly servant of the Lord to want to know more about her fascinating life. She agreed to allow me to interview her and to tell her story.
This story begins with a young, struggling mother living in a small village in rural Finland who is overwhelmed to discover that she is pregnant with her second child. On a dark road one night, she paces back and forth thinking about how she could not possibly take care of another child and wishing that she could have an abortion. Suddenly she cries out, “God, I do not want this child! I give this child to you, do what you want!” She immediately feels God’s peace.
The story I am sharing with you, Anna’s Deikun’s life, is an answer to this young woman’s prayer.
At the time that Anna was born, her parents were living with Anna’s paternal grandparents. Her father worked in the mine, and he and his father both had a problem with alcohol, which left the burden of putting food on the table to the two women.
Anna’s grandmother was the one most responsible for raising Anna, her older sister, and younger brother. She was a woman of strong faith who was active in a local church. She lavished love on the children, and she made sure they grew up knowing that Jesus died for them. She raised Anna to believe that God had a special plan for her.
Every year Anna’s grandmother would take her to Bible camp which Anna described as part of a huge evangelical movement that was sweeping across Finland at the time. When Anna was only six years old, she remembers sitting on the edge of her chair in a huge crowd of hundreds of people listening intently to the message. One passage of Scripture jumped out to her, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15 KJV)
The thought of being thrown into the lake of fire was frightening to little Anna. She became worried, and she wondered if it was too late for her. That evening, she went forward all by herself and knelt at the altar. She prayed with all her little heart that Jesus would save her and that she would not be thrown into the lake of fire.
“I didn’t understand much then,” Anna explained, “but the Holy Spirit began to work in my life.”
From that moment on, she had a love of the Bible and was always thinking about God and wondering about heaven. “It was quite unusual for a child my age; it was God’s wondrous grace.”
Anna’s grandmother continued to take her to Bible camp every summer. For a week each year, Anna would receive in-depth Bible teaching, something she eagerly looked forward to.
The year Anna was twelve stands out in her memory from all the other years at Bible camp. The final evening at camp concluded with a time of sharing around a campfire at the lake. Anna was quick to volunteer to share. She stood up in front of the crowd and recited a poem she had memorized which spoke to her heart.
“The Handmaiden of the Lord”
I am the handmaiden of the Lord;
I am serving in his wondrous house.
But the walls are very far apart;
And the ceiling is high above.
But I am the handmaiden of the Lord;
And he has assigned work for me,
To stay in his house;
And he has the skills and supplies.
Yes, I am the handmaiden of the Lord.
And his joy is my reward;
And his handmaiden will be in the father’s house forever.
by Marja-Terttu Tolamo (translated from Finnish to English by Anna Deikun)
After the program, the camp director sought Anna out. This was a thrilling moment for Anna since he was a person she had looked up to and admired all those years. He told her how much he enjoyed the poem and asked her if she had written it. She said that she had not.
“Even though you didn’t write the poem,” he said to her, “I can tell that the poem has become your life.” He then placed his hands on her head and prayed a blessing over her.
Also, that year at camp was the first time she understood about her personal sin. She realized that she needed to ask forgiveness to everyone she had sinned against. She started with her grandmother. With tears in her eyes, she asked her grandmother to forgive her for all the times she had not obeyed her. And when she got home, she asked forgiveness from her mother and father which was difficult for her, but an important step in her personal growth.
That was the last year Anna went to Bible camp because her parents divorced, and she moved to live with her mother. She still loved the Lord, and she continued to read her Bible and go to church. These were difficult years, but she lived out the words in the poem; she was God’s handmaiden preparing for whatever He had in store for her.
When Anna was 15, she read the Bible story about Philip when he climbed into the chariot to share the good news of Jesus with the Ethiopian eunuch. “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water; What doth hinder me to be baptized?’” (Acts 8:36, KJV)
Anna knew that God was speaking to her about being baptized. But there was a problem. The traditional church she had been raised in did not practice baptism by immersion. When Anna explained to her family that she needed to get baptized, they were not supportive. Even though her father was not a practicing Christian, he thought she had become a heretic and wanted nothing to do with her. Even her beloved grandmother, who had brought her to Bible camp all those years, did not understand.
As difficult as it was to go against her family, Anna knew what she must do. She sought out the evangelical church in her village and was baptized.
“As I was standing in the water,” said Anna, “the Holy Spirit flooded my soul.”
Around this time, Anna finished primary school. Her small, isolated village did not offer high school. For Anna to finish her education, she would have to move to the big city, a move which her mother strongly opposed.
While she was living at home and helping her mother, her new pastor (from the evangelical church) and his wife invited her to take care of their children. Through their godly influence, God confirmed to Anna what He had been speaking into her heart -- that God had plans for her life which would involve not only getting her high school diploma but more education as well.
In an explosive confrontation, Anna told her mother that she must leave and go to the city to get her high school diploma and to go to college. So, before Anna was even seventeen, she made the difficult choice to leave home to pursue her education without her mother’s blessing. It was hard, but Anna knew she had to obey God, and she moved to the city.
Anna discovered that the Lord had already been planning her life. Her pastor had connections in the city and set Anna up to live with a family in exchange for taking care of their children. She settled into a new church family through which God sent many people to help and encourage her. “Even if your father and mother forsake you,” Anna said, “God will send other fathers and mothers to take care of you.”
During her last year of high school, the family she was staying with invited her to come to the US with them which gave her a chance to get quality training in English.
Anna worked and studied hard for the next few years and earned her high school diploma, her nursing degree, and completed Bible training. She also spent a year studying Russian at the American consulate in St. Petersburg.
After she graduated, Anna got a job working at a travel agency. For almost four years, she used her position and contacts from her job to secretly smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. It was exciting work, but extremely dangerous since this was during the Cold War. She was traveling most of the time, so she was not able to actively participate in church as before.
“I did not have an understanding of how strong the enemy is,” Anna said of this time of her life. “Temptations were so heavy.” Her faith was wavering, and she fell in love with a co-worker, a relationship which she knew was not in God’s will.
God is faithful and protected Anna. Through a sudden and dramatic turn of events, the details of which Anna cannot discuss even forty years later, she was forced to leave her job and start over.
Anna quickly found a job as a nurse. She was heartbroken, confused, and feeling alone since she couldn’t share the recent events in her life with anyone. She humbled herself and repented before the Lord because she realized that her heart wasn’t clean like it had once been. God spoke to her through Mark 2:5, “. . .Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”(KJV) Anna experienced God’s forgiveness in a way she never had before, and was filled with joy.
Anna explained that it was important that she went through this difficult time; she learned the crucial lesson found in 2 Cor. 12:11: “. . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (KJV)
Anna again became active in her church and began working to restore a closer relationship with God. She began teaching Sunday School and ministering at a local Bible school. During this time God was speaking to Anna that He had more planned for her, and she felt like he was preparing her to leave Finland. Once again, she was God’s handmaiden of the Lord training for whatever God’s next step would be.
About a year and a half later, some of the students from the Bible school where she was assisting came back from a trip to Italy with reports about a mission, “The American Club,” which was recruiting more people to assist with their ministry to Russian Jews.
The possibility of becoming a part of this ministry excited Anna. “Is this the ministry God has been preparing me for?” Anna wondered. She wanted to be sure, so she contacted the elders of her church and asked if she could meet with them.
The first person who spoke at the meeting was an older gentleman. “I had an interesting dream last night. I saw you, Anna. You were speaking in a different language, Russian, I think. Then I saw women with dark hair and eyes wearing headscarves. You had a Bible and were explaining it to them, and then their faces lit up.”
“Yes, Anna, we give you our full blessing,” her pastor said at the end of the meeting, “but we have no money to give you.”
“Yes, I understand,” Anna replied, “I need to step out by faith.”
* * *
Thank you for reading part 1 of the inspiring story of Anna Deikun’s life. Part 2, which will include her marriage to Alex Deikun, his testimony, and their life and ministry together, will be published on InspirationalLee.com at a later date.
Anna hopes her story will inspire at least one young person to give his or her life fully to God’s service.
*photo credit for background photo of Helsinki – aruna68 from Pixabay